Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Reader's Diary #1040- John Seagrave: The Hudson's Bay Boy

When I first moved to Nunavut in 2001, the Hudson Bay stores were already a thing of the past in the north. At that time Northern Stores had pretty much taken over, but even those were mere grocery/ department stores, certainly without the community relationships and legacy that the Bay had abandoned. When I lived in Iqaluit the former Hudson Bay headquarters served as a private residence which attracted occasional tourists, and the White Stripes.

One of the last Hudson Bay men to hold fort in the north was John Seagrave. If his book of memoirs, The Hudson's Bay Boy, is any indication, Seagrave was a positive, unassuming man with a pleasant sense of humour.

Originally from Toronto, Seagrave only seemed to discover his true self and potential while living among and trading with the Inuit and First Nations of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. The Hudson's Bay Boy is a book of searching. Seagrave appeared to want desperately to connect with and belong to the communities to which he was posted as a Husdson's Bay factor, but just as he seemed to be fitting in and accepted, the higher ups tended to move him on to another post. It would be somewhat sad or frustrating except for the incredible self-discoveries he made as a consolation prize.

Not told in a chronological order, Seagrave instead grouped chunk his memories thematically. I would have preferred chronological, to see if I could get more of a sense of his growth as an individual, but I got used to the format eventually. Still, I wish a map with the various postings marked had been provided.

Seagrave had written selections for the Chicken Soup series before, and that fact, combined with the sad but reflective story that opens the book, I was nervous that the book would be maudlin or full of grandiose philosophy. Fortunately The Hudson's Bay Boy, while sentimental at times, is also humourous, descriptive, and well-written. Granted the book ends how it begins, i.e., with a death, but the contrast between how the two deaths occur provides a very poignant commentary. The way these are used to bookend Seagrave's book is nothing short of brilliant.

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